Monday, May 22, 2006

Conservative Leader on Bush's Base Betrayal

I've been writing for a while that Bush & Co. are not conservatives.

In Sunday's Washington Post, Richard Viguerie (one of the founders of the modern conservative movement in this country) confirmed my assessment.

In an Op-Ed piece entitled "Bush's Base Betrayal," Viguerie runs down a long list of what he believes are examples of Bush administration betrayal of the principles and causes upon which the conservative movement has been based.

Viguerie's list of disappointments differ significantly from what many Democrats would list as our disappointments with the Bush administration, but his assessment of the heart of the Republican Party's problems is instructive:
For years, congressional Republicans have sold themselves to conservatives as the continuation of the Reagan revolution. We were told that they would take on the Washington special interests -- that they would, in essence, tear down K Street and sow the earth with salt to make sure nothing ever grew there again.

But over time, most of them turned into the sort of unprincipled power brokers they had ousted in 1994. They lost interest in furthering conservative ideas, and they turned their attention to getting their share of the pork. Conservatives did not spend decades going door to door, staffing phone banks and compiling lists of like-minded voters so Republican congressmen could have highways named after them and so there could be an affirmative-action program for Republican lobbyists.

White House and congressional Republicans seem to have adopted a one-word strategy: bribery. Buy off seniors with a prescription drug benefit. Buy off the steel industry with tariffs. Buy off agribusiness with subsidies. The cost of illegal bribery (see the case of former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham) pales next to that of legal bribery such as congressional earmarks.
Social conservatives feel used by Bush, Rove and the Congressional Republicans who, once in power, focused on catering to the interests of "Big Business" (Viguerie's term!).

Viguerie goes on to suggest that Republicans losing control of Congress might actually be a good thing for conservatives.

Why the anger? It comes out in the close of the piece:
I've never seen conservatives so downright fed up as they are today. The current relationship between Washington Republicans and the nation's conservatives makes me think of a cheating husband whose wife catches him, and forgives him, time and time again. Then one day he comes home to discover that she has packed her bags and called a cab -- and a divorce lawyer.

As the philanderer learns: Hell hath no fury. . . .
That can only mean trouble for country clubbing, BMW-driving, Italian-loafer wearing Republicans like the guy currently claiming to represent Louisiana's 7th District.

Interestingly (and relevant to the 7th District), Viguerie lumps the failures of FEMA under Bush as a cause for disillusionment:
For all of conservatives' patience, we've been rewarded with the botched Hurricane Katrina response, headed by an unqualified director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which proved that the government isn't ready for the next disaster.
The relevance to the 7th District is that, as residents of Southwest Louisiana know, FEMA's work in the wake of Hurricane Rita was every bit as dismal as its work in the wake of Katrina. The national media has an easier time getting in and out of New Orleans, but the story of the FEMA failures in this district are every bit as appalling. Real conservatives believe that government must, at some fundamental level, function. Bush's FEMA failed Louisiana twice last year. Viguerie lives in Virginia but those failures showed him something he didn't like about Bush and his administration.

So, it's not just Democrats who are upset with Bush. Conservatives have joined the line. So, Bush's unique combination of arrogance and incompetence may just prove that he is a uniter after all? He's got the a broad range of the political spectrum in this country agreeing that the President and his Congressional partners are making a hell of a mess out of the country we love.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Land of the Free? Home of the Suspect!

While trying to track down a video clip of U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' appearance on CNBC Tuesday afternoon, I stumbled across this Washington Post story from earlier this month.

Seems like the Bush administration has found the enemy and it is us! In addition to the latest information on phone company cooperation with the NSA in their latest bit of revealed spying (more on that in a bit), the FBI has been putting the FISA Court and other legal processes to work 'smokin' us out and hunting us down (in the words of the Decider in Chief).

That giant sucking sound? It's really the Bush administration gathering as much information as possible on every American. From your credit cards to your ISP; from your phone to your bank. Bush and company want to get to know us all, up close and personal like.

Here are some raw numbers from the above-linked story:

The FBI sought personal information on thousands of Americans last year from banks, Internet service providers and other companies without having to seek approval from a court, according to new data released by the Justice Department.

In a report to the top leaders of both parties in the House, the department disclosed that the FBI had issued more than 9,200 "national security letters," or NSLs, seeking detailed information about more than 3,500 U.S. citizens or legal residents in 2005.


The count does not include other such letters that are issued by the FBI to obtain more limited subscriber information from companies, such as a person's name, address or other identifying data, according to the report. Sources have said that would include thousands of additional letters and may be the largest category of NSLs issued. The Washington Post reported in November that the FBI now issues more than 30,000 NSLs each year, including subscriber requests.

The Justice Department report also outlined a continued increase in the use of secret warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. The secret court that oversees the law approved a record 2,072 orders for clandestine searches or surveillance in 2005 -- an 18 percent increase from the year before.

Now, Attorney General Gonzales was on CNBC's The Closing Bell on Tuesday afternoon (I'd just returned from jury duty). The interview with the AG was interrupted with news that BellSouth had just issued a denial of the USAToday story that it and other phone companies had cooperated with the NSA's phone call data gathering project.

Interestingly, while neither confirming nor denying the USAToday story, Gonzales said that phone records are BUSINESS records and, thus, getting them from the phone companies (in whatever way) does not constitute any invasion of phone company customer privacy. He said the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled such in a decision a couple of decades ago.

So, if it makes you feel any better, don't think of that as your privacy (AKA "The Fourth Amendment") that's being violated. Think of it as the MBA President and his most powerful pals doing some due diligence on the phone companies' record-keeping.

There! Doesn't that make you feel better just knowing that? If you believe that, I've got some FEMA rehabbed land in St. Bernard Parish to sell you. ;-)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Don't Just Follow the Money; Run Against It!

The Washington Post reports that a West Virginia Democratic member of the U.S. House is under scrutiny because of apparent links between federal projects and non-profits that he has ties with.

Congressman William Jefferson of New Orleans is also under investigation for linking assistance to an information technology company to financial gifts to his wife and children.

The fact of the matter is that the relentless pressure to raise money for campaigns is at the heart of the corruption that is killing our political institutions, particularly the House of Representatives, where members must run every two years.

Whoever the Democrat who runs against Charles Boustany turns out to be (yes, there will be a Democratic opponent for the PAC Man) needs to make money a central issue in the campaign.

Boustany is a Congressman, but he is not our congressman. Instead, he's the congressman for the hundreds of political action committees that have contributed millions of dollars to his two congressional campaigns.

The fact is, money talks to Boustany. Look no further than the money Tom DeLay gave his campaign and the votes Boustany took on his first day in office to help DeLay by changing the rules under which the House Ethics Committee operated. Boustany voted to protect DeLay from the embarrassment of further Ethics Committee investigations.

No one from the 7th District had an interest in protecting DeLay. In fact, voters in the 7th District had every reason to believe that Boustany would stand by the posture he assumed in his 2004 campaign advertising, where he said he would not be part of the old, corrupt politics of the past.

No, instead, Charles Boustany leapt in with both feet in the new corruption of the present, backing the principle of party over people, of K Street over citizens, of the soft "one dollar, one vote" corruption that has come to define the Republican majority in the House.

In order to highlight the corrupting influence of PAC money in campaigns, the Democratic candidate for the 7th District seat should begin the campaign by refusing to accept PAC contributions. Yes, it will make it harder for the Democrat to raise the kind of money that Boustany has raised and will continue to raise. But, if money is, indeed, the problem that could actually work to sharply and clearly define Boustany's ties to the corrupt order in Washington.

It will also provide an opportunity to engage in truly grassroots campaigning and fund-raising by Democrats in the 7th District -- not just pay it lip service.

Corruption is the defining issue of the 2006 congressional campaign season. The public record is replete with examples linking contributions to congressional favors.

The message for 7th District Democrats is this: Don't just follow the money; run against it!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Every. Call. You. Make.

So much for the Fourth Amendment.

USAToday reports that the National Security Agency has created a database of just about every phone call made in this country since 9/11/01. Only Qwest has refused to turn over records.

Every. Call. You. Make.

The NSA has a record of it. They're running it through computers.

They know where you live.

Where your bill goes. How it gets paid.

Who you call. How long you talk with them. How often you call.

This is not a limited surveillance program.

This is not a Constitutional government.

Where is the Congressional oversight?

Where are the checks and balances?

Where are your rights as citizens?

What about this?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Sports Columnist: Post-Katrina New Orleans "a national disgrace"

The quality of the writing is what generally separates Sports Illustrated from other sports publications. Peter King writes a column called "Monday Morning QB" (quarter back). It usually appears on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Today's column proved that King is no ordinary sports columnist.

Here's a bit:
I know you come to this column to read about football, sports and other things. I'll get to the regular Tuesday fare, your e-mails, in a few paragraphs. First, there's something a little more significant to discuss.

I sense that we in this country have Katrina fatigue. The New York Times reported as much recently, saying that people in some of the areas that welcomed Katrina evacuees last September are sick of hearing about the hurricane, the flooding and the aftermath.

Well, my wife and I were in a car last Wednesday that toured the hardest-hit area of New Orleans, the Lower Ninth Ward. We worked a day at a nearby Habitat for Humanity site on Thursday, and we toured the Biloxi/Gulfport/Long Beach/Pass Christian gulf shore area last Friday. And let me just say this: I can absolutely guarantee you that if you'd been in the car with us, no matter how much you'd been hit over the head with the effects of this disaster, you would not have Katrina fatigue.

What I saw was a national disgrace. An inexcusable, irresponsible, borderline criminal national disgrace. I am ashamed of this country for the inaction I saw everywhere.
He ends the column with these paragraphs:
I'm a sportswriter. It's not my job to figure how to fix what ails the Gulf Coast. But the leaders of this society are responsible. And they're not doing their jobs. I could ignore everything I saw and go back to my nice New Jersey cocoon, forgetting I saw it. And I know you don't read me to hear my worldviews. But I couldn't sleep at night if I didn't say something.

On Saturday, at the Saints' headquarters for the draft, I watched the day unfold with a friend of the team, New Orleans businessman and president Michael Whelan. I told him what I'd seen, and asked him what he thought.

"We spend all this money on the war in Iraq and we can't take care of our own cities?" he said. "You get out of downtown, and it's like a war zone in a lot of neighborhoods still. The government has been a huge letdown. I've heard billions of dollars are going to be sent here. Where are they? Nothing is taking place. I certainly think that now it's back-page news; the government is sweeping it under the rug.''
The failure King describes are the failures of leadership at the federal level. The levees were a federal project. They failed. New Orleans flooded. It wasn't the hurricane that devastated New Orleans, it was the floods.

One party runs the Congress and the White House. They and their party are failing New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. They are also failing southwest Louisiana and southeast Texas in the wake of Rita.

One point that King misses is this: While what happened in the 9th Ward is awful, it is no worse than what happened in Lake View and Lake Terrace in New Orleans. Those were middle and upper middle class neighborhoods off Canal Boulevard and Pontchartrain Boulevard, near where the levee on the 17th Street Canal failed.

Driving through those once vibrant neighborhoods is eerie. Houses marked with waterlines eight to ten feet above the ground sit vacant. Some with holes punched through the roof where the people who lived their broke out of their attacks in order to escape the rising waters.

These homes were occupied by successful families. The people who lived there had white collar jobs. They contributed to their neighborhoods, to their city.

Eight months later, most have not come back either. New Orleans will not be the same if the 9th Ward does not come back. But, it will not survive if those Lake neighborhoods don't recover.

Meanwhile, in Washington, the Republican President and the Republican Congress continue to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Peter King is absolutely right. It IS a national disgrace!

The only thing more disgraceful is the failure of the Republicans in the Louisiana congressional delegation to convince their leaders to respond to this tragedy with the resources promised. But, then, holding people accountable is not the Republican way in this century.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Bush channels Tom Petty: "It's Good to Be King"

George W. Bush is ripping at the Constitutional fiber of this country in ways not seen in the history of the Republic.

Think that's a stretch? Think again.

The Boston Globe reported this on Sunday:
WASHINGTON -- President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution.

Among the laws Bush said he can ignore are military rules and regulations, affirmative-action provisions, requirements that Congress be told about immigration services problems, ''whistle-blower" protections for nuclear regulatory officials, and safeguards against political interference in federally funded research.

Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty ''to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to ''execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.
Anyone with even a limited knowledge of the U.S. Constitution know that it relies on a system of checks and balances among the three branches of federal government (the legislative, executive and judiciary) in order to work. Bush is, in effect, saying that as president he has the right to act in all three capacities thereby eliminating the concept of checks and balances and, therefore, the core of the Constitution itself.

Here's more:
For the first five years of Bush's presidency, his legal claims attracted little attention in Congress or the media. Then, twice in recent months, Bush drew scrutiny after challenging new laws: a torture ban and a requirement that he give detailed reports to Congress about how he is using the Patriot Act.

Bush administration spokesmen declined to make White House or Justice Department attorneys available to discuss any of Bush's challenges to the laws he has signed.

Instead, they referred a Globe reporter to their response to questions about Bush's position that he could ignore provisions of the Patriot Act. They said at the time that Bush was following a practice that has ''been used for several administrations" and that ''the president will faithfully execute the law in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution."

But the words ''in a manner that is consistent with the Constitution" are the catch, legal scholars say, because Bush is according himself the ultimate interpretation of the Constitution. And he is quietly exercising that authority to a degree that is unprecedented in US history.
Here's the game Bush is playing:
Bush is the first president in modern history who has never vetoed a bill, giving Congress no chance to override his judgments. Instead, he has signed every bill that reached his desk, often inviting the legislation's sponsors to signing ceremonies at which he lavishes praise upon their work.

Then, after the media and the lawmakers have left the White House, Bush quietly files ''signing statements" -- official documents in which a president lays out his legal interpretation of a bill for the federal bureaucracy to follow when implementing the new law. The statements are recorded in the federal register.

In his signing statements, Bush has repeatedly asserted that the Constitution gives him the right to ignore numerous sections of the bills -- sometimes including provisions that were the subject of negotiations with Congress in order to get lawmakers to pass the bill. He has appended such statements to more than one of every 10 bills he has signed.

''He agrees to a compromise with members of Congress, and all of them are there for a public bill-signing ceremony, but then he takes back those compromises -- and more often than not, without the Congress or the press or the public knowing what has happened," said Christopher Kelley, a Miami University of Ohio political science professor who studies executive power.
Defying Congress:
On at least four occasions while Bush has been president, Congress has passed laws forbidding US troops from engaging in combat in Colombia, where the US military is advising the government in its struggle against narcotics-funded Marxist rebels.

After signing each bill, Bush declared in his signing statement that he did not have to obey any of the Colombia restrictions because he is commander in chief.

Bush has also said he can bypass laws requiring him to tell Congress before diverting money from an authorized program in order to start a secret operation, such as the ''black sites" where suspected terrorists are secretly imprisoned.

Congress has also twice passed laws forbidding the military from using intelligence that was not ''lawfully collected," including any information on Americans that was gathered in violation of the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches.

Congress first passed this provision in August 2004, when Bush's warrantless domestic spying program was still a secret, and passed it again after the program's existence was disclosed in December 2005.

On both occasions, Bush declared in signing statements that only he, as commander in chief, could decide whether such intelligence can be used by the military.

In October 2004, five months after the Abu Ghraib torture scandal in Iraq came to light, Congress passed a series of new rules and regulations for military prisons. Bush signed the provisions into law, then said he could ignore them all. One provision made clear that military lawyers can give their commanders independent advice on such issues as what would constitute torture. But Bush declared that military lawyers could not contradict his administration's lawyers.

Other provisions required the Pentagon to retrain military prison guards on the requirements for humane treatment of detainees under the Geneva Conventions, to perform background checks on civilian contractors in Iraq, and to ban such contractors from performing ''security, intelligence, law enforcement, and criminal justice functions." Bush reserved the right to ignore any of the requirements.

The new law also created the position of inspector general for Iraq. But Bush wrote in his signing statement that the inspector ''shall refrain" from investigating any intelligence or national security matter, or any crime the Pentagon says it prefers to investigate for itself.

Bush had placed similar limits on an inspector general position created by Congress in November 2003 for the initial stage of the US occupation of Iraq. The earlier law also empowered the inspector to notify Congress if a US official refused to cooperate. Bush said the inspector could not give any information to Congress without permission from the administration.
Lest there be any doubt what we're talking about here, consider the words that follow:
David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive-power issues, said Bush has cast a cloud over ''the whole idea that there is a rule of law," because no one can be certain of which laws Bush thinks are valid and which he thinks he can ignore.

''Where you have a president who is willing to declare vast quantities of the legislation that is passed during his term unconstitutional, it implies that he also thinks a very significant amount of the other laws that were already on the books before he became president are also unconstitutional," Golove said.
Undermining the rule of law.

The President of the United States is ignoring Congress, the Supreme Court (read the article) and existing legislation based on what HE thinks the Constitution and laws of the country mean.

Like a drunk, Bush's power grab could not be succeeding without the consent of a co-dependent partner, in this case the Republican-controlled Congress which has, in fact, actively helped conceal Bush's activities from the American public (you remember us, don't you? It's our consent to be governed that is the source from which all political power is supposed to flow).

The fate of the Republic hinges on removing Republicans from majority status in the Congress this year!